Canada’s Emissions Trends

Environment Canada
July 2011

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Executive Summary


When Canada signed the Copenhagen Accord in December 2009, it committed to reducing its greenhouse (GHG) emissions to 607 Megatonnes (Mt) in 2020, or 17 per cent below 2005 levels2. This mirrors the reduction target set by the United States.

In 2005, Canada’s total GHG emissions were 731 Mt, representing about two per cent of overall global GHG emissions.

The Government of Canada’s initial focus in tackling climate change has been on the largest source of Canadian emissions through regulation of the transportation sector, as well as actions to reduce emissions from electricity generation.

Existing measures announced by federal and provincial governments will reduce GHG emissions in 2020 by about 65 Mt. This represents one quarter of the reductions in emissions needed by 2020 to reach the target level of 607 Mt.

Figure ES1 Total Canadian GHG Emissions by Economic Sector (2005 Mt CO2e)3

Figure ES1 shows total Canadian GHG emissions by economic sector as recorded in 2005 as expressed in megatonnes of CO2 equivalent

Text Description for Figure ES1

To close the remaining gap, the Government of Canada will develop and implement similar measures for other key sectors of the economy.

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Canadian Emissions in a Global Context

Overall, global greenhouse emissions increased by 25 per cent between 1990 and 2005. Canada’s share of total global emissions, like that of other developed countries, will decline in the face of rapid emissions growth from developing countries, particularly China and India. By 2005, China had overtaken the U.S. as the world’s largest overall greenhouse gas emitter, and by 2020 China’s greenhouse gas emissions alone are expected to account for 27 per cent of global emissions, up from about 20 per cent in 2005.

The Copenhagen Accord is a critical instrument for addressing such dramatic escalation because it is signed by 140 nations, representing 85 per cent of the world’s GHG emissions. For example, the Accord was signed by China, the U.S., Brazil and India, which together account for over 40 per cent of global emissions. In contrast, none of these major emitters had commitments under the Kyoto Protocol, an agreement that involved commitments of only 40 nations representing 27 per cent of global emissions.

Figure ES2 Global GHG Emissions by Country (2005 Mt CO2e)4

Figure ES2 shows global greenhouse gas emissions by country as recorded in 2005 expressed in megatonnes of CO2 equivalent

Text Description for Figure ES2

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Government Actions and Emissions Trends

Canadian GHG emissions fell in 2008 and 2009 due to the global recession. With the economic recovery, GHG emissions are now expected to begin increasing again. The future path of emissions will depend on government actions, technological change, the growth in the economy, and developments in energy markets.

Environment Canada has developed scenarios for future emissions based on different assumptions regarding future economic and energy market developments. In a scenario that assumes Canadian governments had taken no action to address climate change, the coming decade of economic growth in Canada would likely result in annual GHG emissions reaching about 850 Mt by 2020.

In reality, the Government of Canada has taken significant action to reduce GHG emissions. As well, provincial governments are contributing with significant action of their own under their respective jurisdictional targets, which in aggregate generally match the level of ambition established by the Government of Canada. Taken together, the existing measures of the federal and provincial governments are having a significant impact on emissions over the next decade. These existing measures are expected to reduce GHG emissions by 65 Mt by 2020 relative to the scenario with no government actions, reducing annual emissions in 2020 from 850 Mt to 785 Mt.

Thus, currently announced government measures will generate about one quarter of the reductions in emissions by 2020 that are needed to reach Canada’s Copenhagen accord target of 607 Mt.


Table ES1 Canadian GHG Emissions and Government Measures (Mt CO2e)
  2005 20105 2020
Emissions – Assuming No Government Measures 731 718 850
Emissions – with Existing Government measures 731 710 785
Difference – Impact of Existing Government Measures 0 -8 -65

The Government of Canada’s climate change plan is to regulate all major sources of emissions to generate additional reductions. The goal is to develop sufficient federal measures that, when combined with additional provincial actions, will enable Canada to bring its total GHG emissions down to the target level.

Figure ES3 Scenarios of Canadian Emissions to 2020 (Mt CO2e)

Figure ES3 shows the scenarios of Canadian emissions to 2020 as expressed in megatonnes of CO2 equivalent

Text Description for Figure ES3


2 Emissions presented in this report exclude Land Use, Land-Use Change and Forestry (LULUCF).

3 Canada’s National Emissions Inventory allocates emissions by activity, rather than the economic sector in which they are generated. For example in the National Emissions Inventory total emissions from transportation activities were 192 Mt in 2005, or 26% of total emissions. To better analyze emissions on the basis of economic sectors, transportation emissions directly tied to specific sectors are allocated to that sector in this figure. For example emissions from farm tractors are allocated to the agriculture sector, emissions from heavy mining trucks and related equipment used in mining are allocated to the mining sector, and oil and gas pipeline emissions are allocated to the oil and gas sector.

4 “Climate Analysis Indicators Tool (CAIT) Version 7.0” (Washington, D.C.: World Resources Institute, 2010).

5 Emissions for 2010 are estimated numbers/projections. During preparation of this analysis, the latest available year of actual historical emissions numbers was 2008. The 2010 National Inventory Report summarizes emissions from 1990-2008.


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